On Boxing Day, like every other day of the year, the tourists descended on Uluru, the great sandstone monolith formerly known as Ayers Rock, photographing it and ascending its steep slopes, despite polite signs asking them not to climb it.
The signs reflect the wishes of Uluru's traditional Aboriginal owners, who live in a ramshackle township, Mutitjulu, in the shadow of the rock. And on Boxing Day, Mutitjulu witnessed more grim scenes than usual, when the place erupted in a day-long, alcohol-fuelled brawl.
Australian police said they were forced to retreat and call for reinforcements after being pelted with rocks, bottles and iron bars, while a community nurse who tried to help residents was punched in the head.
It was not clear what sparked the fight between 40 or so of the township's 300 inhabitants. However, police said a pub in a tourist resort 12 miles away had been broken into the previous night, and the stolen bottles had found their way to Mutitjulu, where – like many Aboriginal communities – alcohol is banned. Six people, including four women, were arrested during the brawl, and further arrests were expected.
Mutitjulu has a reputation as one of the most dysfunctional Aboriginal communities. Claims of child abuse there – never proven – triggered the government's "intervention" into the Northern Territory in 2007, designed to stamp out violence and raise health and living standards.
Although it is unclear whether the intervention achieved results, parliament passed legislation this year extending it for another decade.Reuse content